The Lakers had firepower and clutch shots. So did the Trail Blazers.
It was a 48-minute shootout in Portland that literally came down to the final second, as Damian Lillard showed why he is one of the league’s clutchest players with an unreal shot to give his team a 113-110 win.
With the game tied at the end of regulation, the Lakers put their longest defender, Brandon Ingram, on Lillard, as the other eight players cleared out of the way.
Lillard sized Ingram up with a few crossovers, but the 20-year-old didn’t fall for them. Yet as the buzzer prepared to sound, the top-10 scorer hit him with a step-back to the right. Ingram’s 7-foot-3 wingspan offered a solid challenge, but a big-time player hit a big-time shot.
Ingram was frustrated with himself after, calling his defense “mediocre” and “basically an open shot,” but the tape and his head coach told a different tale.
“He gets paid max money to do it,” Luke Walton said of Lillard. “He’s one of the best in the world at it.”
Despite his own self-criticism, Ingram was solid all night, providing 14 points by attacking the rim early to set up his mid-range jumper later.
But L.A.’s biggest weapon was 7-footer Brook Lopez, who smashed through his slump after averaging just 8.6 points in his previous five games.
When the Lakers (3-5) fell behind by 18 in the first quarter, they started feeding their center in the post. He consistently beat Jusuf Nurkic for deep positioning, providing 13 points in the second quarter alone to chop the halftime deficit to four.
The Lakers later blitzed the Blazers (5-4) in the third quarter, scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 74-68 lead.
The track meet was on from there.
As the teams approached five minutes remaining, the Lakers found themselves down until Lopez drew a foul in the post and tied the game at 100 with free throws.
He then took the lead by pump-faking his defender before splashing smooth wing 3-pointer.
Lillard — who had a game-high 32 points — answered with a layup, but the Lakers went back to Lopez. He once again posted up at will, then hit a tough turnaround in the paint to finish his scoring with a season-high 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting.
But the Blazers rebuttled soon after, until Kyle Kuzma took control.
He turned down a Lopez screen and drove straight to the hoop, banking in a sweeping hook shot to give the Lakers a one-point lead with a minute left.
It was nothing new for the rookie, who had 22 points on a 10-of-17 clip — mainly from attacking the paint.
“I had (defenders) that were slow-footed, couldn’t really guard me off the bounce,” Kuzma said. “I just took advantage of that.”
But, as they did all night, the Trail Blazers had a response. This time Lillard hit a tough layup and Nurkic made free throws to take a three-point advantage.
Still, the Lakers had some late magic of their own, as Walton called the ideal play with 15 seconds left.
Kentavious Caldwell Pope ran to the far side of the paint, acting like he was going to set a screen for Kuzma. Instead he turned and sprinted to the near corner while Lopez set a wide pick to give him just enough airspace.
As KCP turned the corner on the screen, he caught the inbounds pass from Lonzo Ball and immediately pulled the trigger, splashing the tying triple.
“Brook set a great screen and Zo made a great pass,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I just knocked down the shot.”
But there was simply too much time left for one of the game’s great closers, as Lillard added to his already impressive reel of clutch shots.
The Lakers did have seven-tenths of a second left to respond, and they almost did.
Ball fired a fastball to the top of the arc, where Kuzma had an open look. His quick release beat the final buzzer, but the shot bounced off the lip of the rim, and Portland escaped with the victory.
Starting power forward Larry Nance Jr. fractured the pointer finger on his left hand. … Lillard, Nurkic (28 points) and C.J. McCollum (22) led Portland. … The Lakers scored 56 points in the paint, but shot just 4-of-18 on 3-pointers. … Ball went scoreless on two shot attempts, adding four assists and three rebounds. … A crowd of 19,469 sold out Moda Center.
A post shared by Los Angeles Lakers (@lakers) on Nov 2, 2017 at 9:16pm PDT